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The Howling Sea

Stay Wild

Adventure Buddies in Baja

When people talk about Baja, their eyes light up. Veterans tell you they’ve been “going there for years” to hallowed surf spots and surreal desert landscapes. The more you hear about places like the Wall or Scorpion Bay, places deeply embedded in surf folklore, the more they begin to take on almost mythical proportions. 

Baja has always been on my list of places to travel, but did I ever see myself gallivanting across the great peninsula on a two-wheeled mechanical steed? Hell, no. But when the idea was hatched to ride dual-sport motorbikes across Baja, I called a few mates I knew who would take the plunge. The wolf pack was formed. At this stage, my boyfriend and I had already been traveling for 2 years and there was talk of returning home to Australia, but we felt we’d be mad to let this opportunity slip from our gypsy mitts. Australia could wait, kicks in Baja couldn’t. 

Our friends were all living in different parts of the world and we each had our own thing going on, but our common thread was the desire to pursue adventure and waves. From cafés on the road, desks of corporate jobs, and stagnant home bases, the trip began to manifest via online conversations. We posted daily fodder to get us all amped—discussions about bike gear, satellite images of surf spots, grave stories of motorcyclists who’d lost their lives on the road. The journey was taking shape, and we weren’t even on the same continent yet. Something magical was brewing.

We told people of our plans, and reactions ranged from stoked and supportive to fearful and foreboding. While most folks were amped about our trip, there was the odd person who was quick to point out the perils of motorbikes, as well as the dangers of Baja. The combination of the two was, in their minds, a deadly combination that should be avoided like the plague. “You’re what? Riding motorbikes across Baja? If you value your life, trust me, don’t do it.” I’d think of Paulo Coelho’s quote, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal,” which so beautifully illustrated the “no risk, no fun” mentality of the pack. Unperturbed, we were only getting more excited about our imminent departure. 

By the time the group got together, everyone was feeling good about their bike setup and riding fully loaded, despite the whirlwind planning. Some people spend several months, even a year or two, executing an expedition of this magnitude; in less than 3 months, we’d pulled it together, and were about to make our way south of the border, filled with a healthy dose of nerves and excitement. We didn’t have a rigid plan, other than to explore the peninsula and let the rising and setting of the sun, the surf, and the elements dictate our movements. No watches and no places we needed to be other than here and now. 

Crossing over the border into Mexico felt like a triumphant feat, a monumental achievement in the form of a simple act. Leaving behind the relative familiarity of the USA, the scrawling on maps and note-taking was all starting to become more than just pen to paper as we made our way into Baja.

We’d heard all the warnings about the “crazy drivers in Mexico,” so it was no surprise when we started to see semi-trucks overtaking one another around sharp bends, sometimes driving toward each other at high speeds coming within a whisker of a collision. There’d be times we’d have to dodge loose cargo or fuel containers that came flying off trucks and hurtling toward us like bouncy balls. 

We’d been cruising the paved roads for a couple of days before the real adventure riding began, and it was a rude awakening from the previous days’ comfort. Paved roads gave way to rocky terrain, deep sand, river crossings, and muddy bogs. Wheels sunk so deep in mud, it took 3 people to heave a bike out. Treacherous hills sent bikes packing, and cuss words flew from mouths freely. Like an angry father scolding a misbehaving child, Alex could often be heard yelling, “Fuckin’ Spiff!” whenever his bike, Spiff, took a fall. The dropped bike count began to tick up steadily. No one was hurt, but our egos took a battering. Yet we always managed to laugh and joke about it. We knew these were some of the most interesting and memorable times we were going to encounter while riding—we loved every minute of it, bruised egos and all. 

Arriving in Cataviña was like nothing any of us had ever experienced before; it looked like it had been created by Dr. Seuss and Tim Burton, but imbued with the desert mysticism of Carlos Castañeda. We were enraptured by the vast cacti forest that spread out as far as the eye could see, as well as the desert plants with their vicious spikes that warned us to keep a safe distance. Like kids on Christmas morning, we watched one of the most spectacular sunsets of the trip: 180 degrees of pastel-colored blue, mauve, and pink juxtaposed against the other 180 degrees of fiery red, orange, and gold. Silhouettes of curved spiky branches looked as though they were dancing in the dusk. Everyone did their own desert wandering, and whether blissing out in a hammock strung between two giant cacti or meditating atop a giant boulder, we all experienced some form of spiritual grounding. 

The natural wonders of Baja astounded us daily. We were constantly in awe of the diverse surroundings, which ranged from stark, barren desert landscapes, to miles of undulating dunes, otherworldly mountain ranges, and secluded bays with turquoise waters. Gazing up at the night skies was like being in a giant planetarium where millions of stars dazzled and shooting stars projected across a big black dome. Just another one of Mother Nature’s shows that are far superior to anything you could ever watch on television. We wondered, “Is this even real?”

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. It was a constant yin and yang, a balance between the easy and the challenging, the idyllic and the harsh. We were happy to endure the lows in order to truly appreciate the highs. There were times when we were so bloody hot, dusty, drained, and frustrated that a little inner voice asked, “What the fuck are you doing here?” Group tensions came to the fore when arguments arose as a result of miscommunication. Things would get heated, but hard feelings would dissolve quickly. Knowing you can have full-blown arguments without any lasting damage to a friendship is a testament to the unconditional love you have with your mates.

The wind was relentless and maddening and seemed to test us at every possible opportunity. One day, we were riding through gale-force winds that were so strong they threatened to push us over the side of the road. While we were terrorized by close calls, tumbleweeds bounced across the road merrily, oblivious to the chaos. We pulled over for a roadside powwow to come up with a plan. Do we press on through this horrendous wind, or do we sit and wait it out? We continued to ride and it was amazing how having this simple discussion provided the pack with support and encouragement, making us feel like a robust, united force when we worked together. It was during harder times like these when the group solidarity was at its strongest that made us proud of the crew we were rolling with. 

Chasing waves was high on our priority list, but this trip was a great reminder that it’s equally important for surfers to realize there is more to the journey than wave-riding. When we pulled into the tranquil Bay of Concepción, the group was torn between those who wanted to stay and those who wanted to hit the next surf spot. We decided to stay, and it was one of those times that proved if you let serendipity play a hand in your day, great things can happen. We met a bunch of inspiring people who were on their own voyage of discovery across Baja, who brought stories to the evening campfire. As red wine was passed around, we started an impromptu jam session that went for hours. An orchestra of vagabonds using ukuleles, acoustic guitars, vocals, freestyle rapping, a banjo, and even a saxophone created amazing sounds in the natural amphitheater of the bay. We received a standing ovation from the sea that suddenly lit up with bioluminescence. We left the campfire to take a closer look at this fleeting spectacle, skimming rocks across the surface to create a rippling effect of a million glowing organisms. It was another dream come true. 

The overall simplicity of motorcycle travel really resonated with the pack. When everything is stripped back to the bare essentials and your days aren’t convoluted with mindless clutter, you have the clarity to recognize what is truly important in life. Friendship is what matters. Setting up camp with no one else around, laughter, eating a glorious meal of fresh fish, sitting around a campfire, and having conversations that range from profound to preposterous. Riding with the wind blowing wildly in your face, flipping off the dunes, and running naked into the ocean. Sharing these moments made the journey so amazing. Descending down a mountain pass and seeing the ocean come into view made our hearts sing after a long and arduous day of riding. We felt so grateful to enjoy freedom—something that is easily taken for granted. Each night we fell asleep to the chorus of the ocean, with a sense of fulfillment, knowing that we were living in the moment, the here and now. 

It’s ironic that Baja, a place so often referred to as the “land of broken dreams,” is a place where travelers come to explore and unveil its mysteries. You roll through some places where half-constructed resorts are for sale, dilapidated homes, abandoned petrol stations, and remnants of little towns that once thrived—suggestions that people packed up and left in search of something better. But people like us go there to make their dreams come true. To surf and play in the giant ocean playground, to live an alternative lifestyle among the diverse Baja settings, meet new people, and forge memories to cherish in our old age. We were the lucky ones who muted any voices of doubt and fear that tried to stop us from making shit happen, and instead listened to the call of the wild—the only voice that should never be ignored. 

Words by Leticia Nguyen // seatoke.com // @seastoke 

Photos by Gary Parker, Alex Dossef and the Howling Sea Crew

thehowlingsea.com // @thehowlingsea